AUSTIN, TX -- Up until the last Republican debate the idea of Marco Rubio as the Republican presidential nominee was a theoretical and distant possibility.
In the pre-Trump era smart money was on Jeb Bush and perhaps even swing state Governor John Kasich. Recently, it’s been the outsiders who have seemed the best poised to capture the nomination. Since the CNBC Republican debate Senator Marco Rubio’s stock has been rising.
The Florida Senator’s commanding performance is giving way to speculation that he may be the GOP’s best answer to the GOP nomination. On the one hand he is not the stodgy establishment type that has been around for decades. On the other hand, he’s not a wholly unknown commodity and wild card like Trump or Carson.
But is the GOP really ready for its first Latino nominee?
Reality is different than theory and there are two reality checks for Republicans who think that Rubio is the ticket – proverbially or literally.
1. Rubio got elected in Florida. The rest of the country is not Florida, especially not the three first primary states. The Latino population in Iowa is about five percent, three in New Hampshire and almost six percent in South Carolina.
Florida has the third largest Latino population in the country. More broadly, Florida is not a stranger to Latino politicians. Currently 13 percent of the Florida legislature is Latino. Compare that to about seven percent in Congress. And Florida has a history of electing Latinos to statewide and national level offices. In 2010 Marco Rubio won with 55 percent of the Latino vote and 55 percent of the white vote.
While Latinos are a rapidly growing population, the number of Latino elected officials at the highest levels of office are relatively small. Moreover, the vast majority of Latinos that are in office are Democrats. As of the last tally of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) there are 1,514 Latino Democrats in office and only 199 Latino Republicans.
2. Immigration. Anti-immigrant feelings have been at a steady simmer since the 2010 Tea Party Revolution and Trump has dialed up the heat on immigration. It’s not just Trump’s hair and celebrity status that catapulted him in the polls. His anti-immigrant rhetoric is what gave Trump a credible political voice.
Half of the American public wants to decrease our current immigration level. But when broken down by party, two-thirds of Republicans are in favor of decreased immigration.
To the best of his ability Rubio has been silent on the issue of immigration. And when pressed he expresses the need to “secure the border first.” But as Rubio continues to gain attention he cannot hide the fact that co-sponsored the Gang of 8 comprehensive immigration reform bill.
And Republicans consciously or subconsciously know that Rubio once in the general election would pivot to a moderate stance on immigration to be competitive. The very thing that would make Marco Rubio competitive for the White House is the one thing that will most likely hold him back from his party's nomination.
The increased attention on Rubio’s personal financial sloppiness doesn’t help. But, these issues can be spun away, unlike the fact that Republicans do not have a good track record of electing Latinos or of being in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.
Marco Rubio is the complete package at least in terms of a general presidential election. He has political experience, can appeal to a wide electorate, and has looks and youth to boot. The question is if he is a package that the GOP is ready to accept.